The Flint Hills region of Kansas is receiving stocker cattle following timely rains in April that are helping boost grass growing conditions.
Drought in the area has persisted for much of 2018 due to low moisture totals in the winter. During April the drought growth has been limited thanks to more rain.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data, in the past 30 days the northern area of the Flint Hills near Manhattan, Kan. received more than 150% of its normal precipitation. Heading south totals were between 75-100% of normal precipitation until reaching the Oklahoma border where moisture was slightly sparser.
The rain helped improve the Vegetation Drought Response Index for rangeland in the Flint Hills.
The majority of counties in the index show pre-drought stress or normal forage conditions. Elk County, Kan. has the most moderate drought showing according to data compiled on May 6.
Going further south into the tallgrass prairie region of Osage County, Okla., the index shows predominately pre-drought stress rangeland.
No severe drought is being observed in the Flint Hills area, but going further west in both Oklahoma and Kansas shows several pockets of severe drought on rangeland.
The last time pre-drought stress rangeland conditions were as widespread at the start of May was in 2014.
Pasture Burning Later
Typically, controlled burns are utilized in the Flint Hills during early spring to help with weed and brush control. This year there was limited pasture burning in the region.
“Most of that reluctance to burn is related to bad weather conditions, and very dry conditions,” says KC Olson, a professor of range beef cattle nutrition and management at Kansas State University. “Folks are worried that if they burn up what forage they have, they might not get anymore.”
Olson believes this could present an opportunity for ranchers in the region to burn pastures later this year. Land could be burned in August or September once cattle are pulled off pasture to help control the spread of invasive plant species like sericea lespedeza.
“Fire is the perfect scarifier for sericea lespedeza seed,” Olson says. “The seed doesn't care if the scarification happens in the spring, in the summer, in the fall – as long as there's some growing season left, it's going to germinate, and you're going to get a juvenile plant. When we burn in the spring and scarify the seed at that time, those juvenile plants have a full growing season to mature, store root carbohydrates, and maximize their survival odds for subsequent years.”
More details on burning pasture in the late summer can be found through K-State Research and Extension.
For additional information on pasture conditions in the Flint Hills watch the video above from Drovers associate editor Wyatt Bechtel.